Browsing Tag


Guest Posts, Family

The Building of Something

October 4, 2023
Jax, apartment, building

I turned 21 on June 3rd and on June 8th we got married under a Southern live oak. We walked hand in hand at the end of our wedding night in between everyone that molded us, moved us, reared us to this. A few months after, we left north. When we left Texas for Pennsylvania, I never felt more sure home wasn’t in the South. Home, I thought, would only exist when we found a place we wanted to return.

We were friends, until one night at a bookstore we layed bare our similar dreams, revealing somewhere underneath our desire to escape. Eventually, we grew dependent on the stability we garnered together, falling in love while creating some sort of base. To what? We didn’t know.

A friend in college once threw up from heartache. Her partner of two years broke up with her over the phone while we were in the girl’s communal bathroom. She hung up, grabbed her stomach, and ran into a stall crying. She hurled liquid and loud wails in an attempt to extract the pain. Withdraws from something her body knew and craved. I always imagined that’s how I’d miss you.

In Pennsylvania, we found our apartment while driving through Pittsburgh’s Shadyside. We drove down Elmer, a street over from Walnut, the one with all the shops and restaurants, when I spotted a third-floor apartment with a sunroom that stuck out like a balcony. I dreamt of that sunroom quietly while we explored the neighborhood.

Down Walnut, we took a right on Negley, and a left on Elsworth where we drove alongside mansions. I imagined the ease of old money. I imagined us in the large grey victorian home with the blue swing hanging on a red maple. I imagined, for the first time in a long time, with a twinge of confidence; a belief in us.

When you called later, and they told us the sunroom apartment would come available during the month we needed it, it did something to my psyche, promoted an exaggerated optimism that simply leaving was the end of it, the solution to our past. I never considered leaving as temporary, as only an element of healing.

When we moved in, we gave most of our money to the restaurants on Walnut: margarita pizza at Mercurios Gelato & Pizza, the crab rangoons at Asian Fusion, the frozaccino at Coffee Tree Roasters, or the chocolate chip cookies at Rite Aid, just before midnight. On the weekends we ventured a few streets down to the underground French cafe with our favorite French toast for breakfast at noon; yours covered in syrup and walnuts, mine with strawberries and whipped cream. We witnessed our first real snowfall, the kind that insulated the city. Middle-of-the-night snowfall in Pittsburgh, void of any footprints, conceals a city once deindustrialized and makes it new.

We lived together for three years in Texas. First, in my childhood home after my parent’s divorce. My mom moved to Virginia and let us stay there for cheap, and, in exchange, we prepared the house to sell. I hated living in my childhood home; I felt stuck inside something I both loved and wanted to forget. The power of that contrast consumed me and so you worked hard to finish.

Later we moved into one of your mom’s rental houses. We didn’t pay any rent and we were roommates with your Aunt Nancy. Aunt Nancy and her pet bird, aside from the time she hit on my dad or the time she told us she liked listening to us laugh in the middle of the night, was a pleasant roommate.

When she moved out, your brother moved in and brought his three-month-old son, Jax.

Unable to afford daycare, he sat Jax on our bed that first morning and nearly every morning after until we left. I kept my eyes shut working to resist the weight next to me until his little hand brushed my face. I opened my eyes to his double chin hanging over me. I took note of the few hairs on his gigantic head, admired the eyelashes on his big brown eyes as he studied me, and in unison, we smirked at each other.

I closed my eyes and sank deeper into the blanket as he tugged.

When you got the call about the job in Pittsburgh and I got my college acceptance, we never hesitated. Getting out was the plan. We talked about adopting Jax only once, after the first time CPS got involved, but I recoiled at the thought of motherhood and secretly resented the way I loved him. We left north the day after Christmas, couldn’t even wait for the year to end.

There’s a picture your mom took on that Christmas Eve of me, Jax, and Jax’s mom. I had just changed Jax’s diaper, the last diaper of his I’d change for a long time. We were sitting on your mom’s red couch, his mom to my right and Jax on my lap. Jax and I are looking at a book together and his mom is looking at the camera. This image only stood out to me after her overdose. I imagined the picture in my head, I saw her body fading and only Jax and I were left.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s always feels unresolved. I sat on the passenger side of the U-Haul observing the town slowly creep behind us. The parks and restaurants that once faded to the backdrop of our life now stood out. My brain took a mental picture of a place I knew so well, a place I ached to leave, but a place now embedded with Jax’s short life; a foggy sense of obligation.

We walked like kids into our new sunroom apartment, entering a space we earned. I held the paper with the list of things to check off, and we scanned each room for imperfections, and though there were many, we found none. I dropped the paper and, with proper third-floor etiquette, forced you to pretend-jump with me.

Holding both your hands,

“We have our own apartment!”

and synchronizing to my repetitive sumo squat, you repeated the words from my mouth, “we have our own apartment!”

It took a couple of days for us to feel the relief of being miles from Texas. Settling into our new calm illuminated the reality of our previous chaos, the space Jax remained.

In this safe place we stayed, hearing news from home, your mom is now fostering Jax; parent’s rights legally terminated.

At what point, if at all, does our shield, the place we created for rest (rest existing as both essential and temporary), become hiding?

We watched families with fear and admiration, as though we were expecting. We did the math in our heads; your mom will turn 72 the year Jax turns 16.

We sat at the summit of Schenley Park hill, looking out above everything and silent together. Our limbs fixed to the bench, staring ahead.

“He’s already attached to my mom,” you said, not looking at me.

I veered my head further away,

“you’re right, he’s already attached to your mom,”

I said, repeating the words from your mouth.

Our words floated but never impeded my imagination. From then on whatever we did: eating pho in Squirrel Hill, grabbing a seat on the city bus, drinking taro bubble tea, reading in the sunroom, sitting still in Shenley Park; I imagined it all as existing in double, now and with a child.

We flew to Dallas one weekend to see a close friend, piling with other friends in her tiny sedan, staying out at rooftop bars, and eating 2:00 am ice cream. We slept on an air mattress in the living room she and her roommates shared. The next day in her car she asked us about Jax, “so are you guys going to end up adopting him?” she looked at me and I looked away. “Well, I don’t know, he’s really attached to his grandma.” I recognized the lie because of the rehearsed switfness of my answer. I looked down at my hands, opening them to release what I was holding on to. She watched me in silence, then put the car in drive.

I never anticipated the labor of the coming year. But in the car I knew; I never told you, this is when I opened my hands to a possibility; that home lay synonymous to a feeling I harbored for a person.

I fell ill to some sort of virus on the eve of my December graduation, exactly two years after we set off northeast. This was pre-pandemic, and I walked the stage with body aches. I see this now as a sort of birth, a morphing, the physical equivalent of a hammer to a nail, the building of something.

Aubrey Cofield is a daydreamer, over-thinker, emotional, human. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction but dabbles in a little bit of everything. Aubrey has been published in LatinX Literary Audio Magazine, NPRs Worth Repeating, Southern Review of Books, and The Motley Few, among others. She teaches creative writing to a wide age range; from 10 years old to 70 years old. Aubrey is currently working on a fiction manuscript that pushes through structural boundaries and is heavily based on personal life stories. She is a proud BIPOC writer and lives just north of Austin, TX.


Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)


Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Adoption, Guest Posts

Born of Stars, This Love of Mine

July 22, 2021

by Amy Sayers 

I held her in my arms, not believing all 6.8 pounds of her was real. For months she came to me in meditation, in visions, in my breath. But here she was in the flesh and perfect, all ten toes and ten perfectly slender fingers. Satin cheeks and searching eyes. What do you see, I wanted to ask—What are you thinking? Why is your brow furrowed? Then her belly peaked in a tent-like contraction. Was it a cramp? Was it hunger, gas? Or grief…

The bellowing began. The tubes and bottles from the breast pump tugged with her sucking but to no avail. All my dreams of loving and being loved by this child expired like air hissing out of a balloon. Not being able to feed her from my body made me feel a complete failure. I held her and rocked her, from her opening scream till the noontime nap. I walked her on my body, bathed her skin to skin, slept with her on my chest, wondering, what had I done.

Who was I to adopt this baby from her birth mother? Clearly she was missing her birthmom’s particular scent, the timbre of her voice, her touch. I struggled, knowing scent was primal, something that was part of her DNA, something I couldn’t replicate. Only in time would she come to recognize mine.

Colic can be digestive, allergies, fussiness—they don’t always know. I tend to think it was grief. And all I knew to combat it was steady love. So I held her, I sat in the swing and I sang the one lullaby I knew. I walked with her, I concocted home made formula, store-bought Whole Food’s colostrum, but nothing worked. I finally relied on the packaged formula, which probably had sugar in it and god knows what else, but she had to eat. She had to sleep. And so did I.

We made the mistake of reading the Ferber book which advocates letting your child cry themselves to sleep. It was hideous. No grace. No laughter. No song. No. Love. She’d make herself physically ill, throwing up, coughing, or an explosion of diarrhea. It was too much.

I said to my husband, “This doesn’t feel right. It’s not just belligerence. I’m convinced its grief. She needs to know she’s safe. She needs to feel love. This, for the rest of her life.”

Attachment is so crucial in the first months. And so we took turns sleeping with her, sometimes she snuggled in the middle, sometimes she slept with my husband, mostly with me, sleeping skin to skin. In time, the blankie served as a pacifier, in addition to the ‘bubba’, but she didn’t relinquish her bottle until she turned four. We then had to do a ceremony so that Blues-Clues wouldn’t feel abandoned. We wrapped him in tissue, sprinkled him with rose-petals, covered him in a fairy-box and sent him off in care of the angels.

Ceremony helped. Tough love is hard. I realized in an instant, I wanted it to be easy, without pain, pure and dazzling, mine to hers and hers to me. We had moments of that, along with laughter, song, dance and stories. Always stories. Birth stories, creation stories, and the hard questions that followed. The grief-stricken, angry, belligerent “you’re not my real mom” cry. The marking and cutting and other demons that broke her into her many scattered selves. The painful times where I felt so helpless, again, as to how to give sanctuary while she flailed in the darkness. Still, I continued to hold space and to listen. I offered therapists, healers, and for all the compassion, affection and love, I still couldn’t take away the pain. That being the hardest lesson to learn about love.

Now she’s finding her way, making her own discoveries and our affirmations and prayers continue. She is a gift, my beam of light, my inspiration. But she is not of me, she is of her own soul. She came from the stars. She was born of my dreams. That is how she came through. This is love and I hope I am blessed to have it dazzle for years to come.

Amy Sayers is a mother, writer, artist, healer, and Pilates Instructor. Her memoir, TINY WHITE DRESSES is a synthesis of life events, a culmination of dreams and visions that led to the adoption of her daughter, Marika. She lives in Santa Fe, NM with her British husband and their two dogs. Amy is currently working on a novel with her editor, Alice Anderson, while querying her memoir. Amy paints in her free time and has exhibited in local galleries. Her essays have been published in local anthologies and magazines, as well as Manifest-Station—a chapter from the memoir called PLATTER OF ORANGES.


Although each of Jenny Offill’s books is great, this is the one we come back to, both to reread and to gift. Funny and thoughtful and true, this little gem moves through the feelings of a betrayed woman in a series of observations. The writing is beautiful, and the structure is intelligent and moving, and well worth a read.

Order the book from Amazon or


Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option


Guest Posts, Adoption, No Bullshit Motherhood

Adoptive Parents are A**holes, Too

March 31, 2019

By Gina Sampaio

We didn’t exactly set out to have five kids. We had a girl, we had a boy, we had a vasectomy. Then we had a foster baby boy and adopted him. Then his birth mother had another boy whom we fostered and adopted and then a girl whom we also fostered and adopted.

Um, you know you can say no,” my friend said when she found out about the baby girl. “I know. But I can’t.” I replied.

But does that automatically make us really good people? Or does that just make us…suckers? Aren’t we actually just baby whores or, maybe more accurately…gluttons for punishment?

Because here’s something I realized after a four-year break between infants: there’s a lot about babies that really sucks. And the novelty of being woken up multiple times per night wears off just a little bit quicker with each kid. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting


January 4, 2017

By Kristi Rabe

I’m not your typical writer. I had a great childhood. Yes, I was odd and the entire school made sure I was keenly aware of that fact. I was ridiculed and bullied, but I had a great family. We weren’t well off, but every summer there were campouts and vacations. Every Christmas and birthday was made magical by my parents and every night we sat together as a family and ate dinner and talked. My parents taught me the importance of family, so that all I ever wanted as a little girl was to be a mom – not just any mom. I wanted ten kids. However, after my oldest son was born in 1995, I faced 7 years of infertility, an emergency hysterectomy, 3 failed adoptions, and a divorce. Life never really goes as planned.

My youngest son was born June 6, 2006. I’ve learned the importance of saying it this way. Like spelling my last name before saying it, stating the month, day, and year instead of abbreviating with 6/6/06 usually saves the awkward conversations of Satan and wide eyes of worry and fear. You’d think in this day and age, such a thing wouldn’t be so controversial, but it is and I admit at times I’ll say it short hand to fuck with someone. Continue Reading…

Adoption, Family, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Living the Mother

December 28, 2016

By Anne Heffron

My mother asked for me to read Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes at her funeral. I cried when I got to the last stanzas, not because they rang true, but because I felt devastated that, even from the grave, my mother wasn’t telling the truth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


This is the story I grew up with: after my mother had gone to Smith, she’d gone to New York and had gotten a job as a fact checker for Reader’s Digest. She listened to Kennedy give his “ask not what your country can do for you speech” and was inspired to do something she felt would help the world, and so she joined the Peace Corps and went to Nigeria. Shortly after arriving, she wrote a post card to a friend that described the conditions of Ibadan:

Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.


The next day there was an uprising because my mother had dropped the card instead of getting it into the mailbox, and a Nigerian student had found it. The Nigerians protested the Americans and my young mother almost brought down her beloved President’s cherished organization.

My mother was sent into hiding and then flown home where my father met her at the airport and asked her to marry him. And so supposedly that was her happily ever after moment.

Continue Reading…

Adoption, Guest Posts

There Is Nothing Wrong With Broken

October 17, 2016

By Brook Biggs

It is dark, the world has gone to sleep. Midnight passed and the dawn is still several hours away. In her crib, a little girl sleeps soundly. Who knows what dreams flicker through her mind’s eye; her thin eyelids quiver rapidly in sleep. All throughout the tiny house, the noises that create day have been silenced to paint night. A soft tread is heard in the hall just outside the sleeping child’s room. The door opens silently, a mere whisper against the old carpet on the floor. A woman enters, the weight and exhaustion of multiple jobs pull at her shoulders. She creeps towards the crib, towards the child she has not seen since the night before, and when her eyes find the outline of her child through the darkness, a mixture of grief and happiness collide in her eyes. This is her baby, her youngest, her daughter whom she loves but cannot keep. This is the child she will soon give away.

Reaching into the crib, unable to stop herself, the mother carefully scoops the child up into her arms. The little girl stirs but continues to sleep, resting her head in the nook of her mother’s neck, cradled into the arms created for comfort. Using her feet to find her way, the mother shuffles forward until she finds what she is looking for. The rocking chair is old but it is sturdy and it rocked the mother’s first child. Now it will rock this second child, the motion undulating a rhythm that defies the turmoil in the woman’s heart. She has gone back and forth on this. She has berated her mind, her absent spouse, her lot in life and still, the moment comes back, always, to the day she will walk away from her child. The sway of the chair, the breath of her sleeping child on her neck, the tears running down her cheeks, and the guilt tearing holes in her heart will not let her forget the despair of choice. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Adoption, Young Voices

A Reflection on a Second Birthday

June 3, 2016

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Lucy Sears

It is February 23, and I am staring at a picture I have taken on my phone of a photo that sits in an album eight hundred miles away. In it, my mother hugs me close to her chest. There are tears in her eyes, but her face speaks a volume of joy that has been incredibly captured in a single shot. My father stands behind her, with a similar look.

This is the first photo that was taken of us, as a family. The date is February 23, 1998. It is not the day that I was born, but rather, it is the day I like to say my life began. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Adoption

With Child

May 1, 2016

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

During the adoption process for our second child, I packed on a good twenty-plus pounds. As a number, twenty isn’t so much. Twenty bucks won’t get you far. Twenty minutes pass in a flash. And at twenty years old, most can’t find their way out of a paper bag. But if you go to your local farmer’s market, pick out two ten-pound pumpkins, strap them to your arse, and walk around for a day, you’ll quickly realize that twenty pounds is a heck of a lot of weight.

Physically, there was no reason I should have gained any weight at all. It’s not like I was growing our child in my womb and had to feed it. But emotionally, for nearly two years as we went through the adoption process, I was eating for two. Emotionally, I was trying to feed this faraway baby in a Chinese orphanage who I didn’t even know, yet who I knew was not getting enough love or nutrition or food or stimulation…all those things babies need. From thousands of miles away, I was eating and eating and eating, trying desperately to give our future child everything he or she needed to thrive until we could scoop them up and bring them home.

I was also feeding my own nerves. If you’ve ever been through the international adoption process, you know that it’s an extended exercise in frustration and futility, from the required “this is the worst it could be” class with a social worker, which is kind of like “Scared Straight” for wanna-be parents, to the filling out of 3,901,277.89 forms, to the scrutiny of the home study during which you’re petrified that that one not-so-great choice you made in high school will blow your chances at parenthood, to the mind-numbing hours spent scanning, copying, and collating documents. Believe me, this shit can send you over the edge.

In my case, it sent me to Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, the local pizza place, the ice cream aisle at the grocery store, second helpings of everything, and…

Since we’d successfully navigated the adoption process once before and brought our daughter home from Vietnam in 2008, you’d think I would have been better prepared for the rigor and demands of the process. But in the mid 2000s, we lived in Shanghai, China, and I had a lifestyle that afforded me a heck of a lot more time and patience than I have now. First, we employed a woman who cooked meals, cleaned our house, and did our laundry…three tasks that when done by someone else free up a shockingly large amount of time. Second, I wasn’t a parent yet, so I wasn’t battling sleep deprivation or running around hollering, “No dirty gutchies in the living room!” And, third, I did not have a demanding full-time job. Yes, I was working on a novel and exploring the nooks and crannies of China, but I had oodles of time to fill out forms and lay bare the most intimate details of my screwed-up childhood for a nosy social worker.

By the time we started the adoption process for our second child, we were back in the United States and I was living the high life that many American women writers do—mothering my daughter, cooking meals, cleaning the house, folding laundry in the wee hours, trying to be a good partner to my husband, doing a happy dance if I got to wash my hair more than once a week, holding down a rewarding but hella-consuming full-time job, and getting up at 4:30 every morning to steal a single hour to write. “Sleep deprived” was emblazoned on the bags under my eyes. Needless to say, getting through the process the second time was bloody hell, and within a month of starting the process, I morphed into the not-so-charming adult version of Eric Carle’s gluttonous caterpillar. It went something like this:

While completing our application to the adoption agency—a smeary form that looked like it hadn’t been updated since it was created on an over-inked mimeograph machine in 1970—I ate 3,802 pieces of pizza.

While filling in child abuse clearance forms for every state and country in which I’d ever lived, my wanderer/adventurer/writer lifestyle as a young adult came back to bite me in the ass (good god, I’ve lived in a lot of places), and I ate 692 pints of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.

While studying the extensive list of documents I had to gather for our adoption dossier (birth certificates, marriage certificate, home study, letter of commitment, reference letters, letters of employment, certificate of financial status, and so on), I slurped down a chocolate milkshake. Then a vanilla milkshake. Then another chocolate.

As I answered the same questions by hand on the nearly four million forms referred to earlier, I fantasized about interactive PDFs and devoured 7.2 million cheeseburgers.

As I rushed from my day job at lunchtime to retrieve “good citizen” forms from our local police department, I wolfed down three chocolate crullers in less than 30 seconds. A week later, when I discovered that the police department notary had screwed up the notarization on the “good citizen” forms by not including a raised seal—delaying our process until a new form could be acquired—I resisted the temptation to ruin my good citizen status by throwing a hissy fit at the station, and, instead, devoured a half dozen more crullers.

As I listened to an official tell me, after I’d filled in and submitted form No. 3,482,900, that it was the wrong form and that our process would be—once again—delayed, I ate the dashboard of my Subaru.

At month twelve, when I caught the pockets of cellulite on my thighs waving to me in the mirror on my way to the shower, I bought three pairs of bigger pants. Later that week when my daughter called me wobbly, referring to my new layer of chub, I vowed to stop the madness and immediately grunted out a handful of sit-ups on the dusty exercise ball in my office. While I certainly hadn’t started out with Sofia Vergara’s crowd-wowing figure, after a glass of wine in a dimly lit room without my glasses on, I’d been mostly satisfied with the state of things. I could get there again. I knew I could. So with Katy Perry’s crescendo-rich “Firework” blasting in my ears, I spent the next week nibbling leafy lettuce and tearing it up on the elliptical at the gym.

Not surprisingly, my stalwart resolution lasted just until our dossier of required documents was one hundred percent complete. At this point, with the pressure rising, I caved. I hobbled about with my new pumpkins strapped to my arse, discovered just how emotionally satisfying a good mozzarella cheese stick could be, and began gathering the four necessary blessings:

  1. notarization at the local level, which must include the notary’s signature, stamp, and raised seal;
  2. certification at the state level, which, in our case, meant two trips to the Secretary of State’s office in Boston where not a single person had any expression whatsoever on their face or inflection in their voice;
  3. authentication by the U.S. Secretary of State in Washington, D.C., during which our dossier was dipped in gold filigree and danced around by a gaggle of bureaucratic fairies; and
  4. approval from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., a group with whom you do not want to fuck.

To mitigate the worry that one of the powers-that-be would find something wrong and bring our process to a screeching halt, I stocked up on non-perishable items that would serve me well in either an apocalyptic event or a nervous breakdown: Milano cookies, bigger-than-my-head bags of M&Ms, and chocolate-on-chocolate Pop-Tarts. Believe me, when the woman from D.C. called to inform me that the notarized copy of my husband’s birth certificate from Ireland wasn’t sufficient and that our case would be delayed until we could provide an official copy of his Certificate of U.S. Citizenship from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), I was ready. By the time “USCIS” left her mouth, I was shoving M&Ms into my mouth so furiously they were popping out my nose.

Of course, it might have helped if my husband and I had told people we were on the road to a second adoption. If we had, instead of gorging myself, I could have uttered, “I am with child,” then collapsed into someone’s lap, sobbing from any one of the emotions that gripped me daily: frustration, fear, worry about our child-to-be, worry about his or her birth family, writer’s cramp, pissed-off-edness at the process, panic about how I’ll teach our daughter or son to know and honor their birth country, consternation about whether or not my plan to raise my kids as global citizens so they are comfortable all around the world is just a bunch of new millennium hogwash, and so much more. Perhaps most of all, I worried about how I’ll help our child manage the wound carved by abandonment, loss, and the inevitable, driving wonder of “who am I.”

Good gracious, if we had just shared our news, any kind, stable, sympathetic person could have tackled me, barred my entry to Dunkin Donuts, and belted out, “Woman, put down the cruller! You will explode!”

But because there are no visible signs of being with child when you adopt—no whispered stage of “Is _____ prego?” when a woman is just beginning to show or an all-knowing “oh, yeah” stage when a woman’s belly has popped—it’s up to each adoptive family to figure out when and how to share the news. This is not always an easy decision. When my husband and I adopted our daughter in 2008, we told the world early on in the process. But with our son, we told no one. Not my parents, my sisters, my husband’s mum, colleagues at work, or close friends. We didn’t even tell our daughter, whose longing for a sibling was deep and complex. We told no one except the three friends who wrote us reference letters and one of my husband’s sisters in Ireland. Even them, we swore to secrecy.

I simply couldn’t put it out there. The longing I felt to be a mom to two exposed my raw, thumping heart in a way I just couldn’t bear, and if for any reason our adoption didn’t happen (not an uncommon occurrence), I was pretty sure I would have disintegrated and blown away like a dandelion poof. This time around, I was just too fragile and the process was just too daunting, too time-consuming, too life sucking, and too fraught with possible mine fields. It was all I could do to put my head down and make it all happen privately, baby step by baby step.

After getting my husband’s Certificate of Citizenship, our dossier cleared all hurdles and was shipped off to China. While at first glance this seems like an opportunity to celebrate, in truth it simply marked the beginning of a period of waiting that I consider comparable to being water-boarded. The litany of required approvals and stamps and nods from such a variety of offices in China was so long that I couldn’t keep it straight:

First this, then that.

Then this and that.

If not this, then no way that.

Definitely none of this during Chinese New Year.

When this, then that.

Without this, none of that.

All of the this’s and thats would lead, I was told, to the referral of our child-to-be and, finally, travel to China to bring him/her home.

During this period of time—perhaps my darkest, most ravenous—I started each day with a solid “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” checked my email obsessively, and decided it best to eat everything in sight. Then everything not in sight. Those pumpkins firmed up beautifully and started to draw the attention of friends, family, and colleagues who still had no idea that I was with child. I couldn’t help but notice the raised eyebrows, winces, and big eyes behind my back signaling the “Yikes, what is going on with Kristin?”

When our agency finally matched us with our new son and photos arrived in my inbox, I fell head over heels. With the equivalent of an ultrasound pic in hand, I wanted to rejoice, climb to the mountaintops, and shout our news to the world, but since we’d waited seven hellish months from referral to bring our daughter home, I knew the wait to bring our little guy home could go on for an excruciatingly long while. Instead of telling the world at this point, I loaded all the photos we got of our little guy into my phone and scrolled through them obsessively…in bathroom stalls, stairwells, my car, and so on.

At night, alternately chewing on worry and chocolate, I silently chanted, “Please hold his heart open. Please hold his heart open. Please hold his heart open.” Children who begin life in orphanages may not get great nutrition or outside time or toys, but the nannies who care for them often succeed in what I consider to be their most important job: holding open the children’s hearts until we, the adoptive parents, can get there.

In July 2015, when we finally traveled to China and the nanny placed Yao in my arms, I immediately stopped eating like a crazy person. With the Yaoster right there, leaning his little bewildered self against me, my insatiable hunger waned and my desperate attempt to nourish him from afar was no longer necessary. From that moment on, I would love, feed, teach, and nurture our little guy live and in person.

My obsessive worry, as I knew, wasn’t unfounded. We quickly learned that while Yao had been kept clean, he hadn’t been properly fed. At two years old, he’d never had solid food. He had a red, swollen cleat at his hairline from slamming his head against the wooden bars of his crib—a natural response to boredom, loneliness, loss, and need—and when he’s scared or nervous, he punches his own head as hard as he can with the pointy end of a knuckle. They had not let him learn to walk until he was matched with our family; at two years and three months old, he toddled about like a brand-new walker. He had H Pylori in his system. He wasn’t able to speak a single word in Mandarin. Not a single word. At two years old. And from the joyful way he now ogles the sky, it’s pretty clear he never spent any time outside. But still—still—his cleft lip had been repaired quite well and, hallelujah, the nannies had done their most important job: Yao’s heart was open. Not flung wide, mind you, but just wide enough.

Today, at home, Yao is silly, funny, and curious. He is super bright and loves music. He’s crazy about bananas and Nutella, and he’s got a giggle that melts glaciers. The head banging and punching, thankfully, are slowly becoming things of the past, and, yowza, that boy loves to play chase with his older sister. He babbles like crazy and is pretty close to uttering whole words. Most importantly, he’s bonding well. In the four short months we’ve had him, he’s become a true cuddler who doles out hugs and smooches like candy. While it’s going to take a whole lot of love and time and work to get him centered and sturdy in our big old world, I’m confident he’ll get there.

As for those pumpkins, well, as most know, putting on twenty-plus pounds is way easier than taking off twenty-plus pounds. Since returning home to the United States, I’ve dropped some of the adoption weight and suspect more will go as I chase our busy toddler through sandboxes, up ladders, and down slides. Every once in a while, when I catch sight of my and Yao’s reflection in the window as we’re racing through our back yard, I get startled by the chub and wobble of my newly altered self and yell, “Holy crap! Who the hell is chasing my son?” But grappling with the emotions around my own physical identity is superficial crap compared to the ecstasy of finally, finally, finally being able to climb to the mountaintop with my bullhorn in hand and Yao on my hip, and shout for the world to hear, “It’s all good, people. I was with child.”


Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of the novels The Art of Floating and Thirsty, as well as numerous essays about China, adoption, parenting, bears, off-the-plot expats, and more. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Baltimore Review, HyperText, Poets & Writers Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. She’s also a speaker, writing instructor, cultural spelunker, and mom to two marvelous kiddos via adoption. Find her on Instagram and Twitter at @kbairokeeffe.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.


Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a special Mother’s Day weekend retreat in Ojai Calif, May 6th, 7th, & 8th, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Adoption, Family, Guest Posts

A New Branch

February 22, 2016

By David Lintvedt

In a local library there is an interesting bit of folk-art: a model of a family tree made for a family reunion held about 140 years ago. It is made of carefully carved and polished pieces of wood, each branch representing a member of the family. Rather than a tree it looks more like a bush, with many branches springing from each other, to show children and grandchildren as they are added to the family tree. This model resonates with me, for it is a good metaphor for adoption, at least when it works well, as the new family member truly becomes a new branch of the family tree.

As an adoptee, I have often been asked about my “real family”, if I ever wonder about them: who they were, what they were like, and I tell them that I know exactly who my “real family” is: the family who raised me and cared about me and made me a part of their lives! While I have met my birth father, and even some half-brothers, they are not my family, and I never felt the need to stay in touch. After all, I am part of a good family already, and this is the story (as I know it) of how I became a branch of my family tree:

I was born in The Bronx, in May of 1963. Soon after, my biological parents moved to find a better life and wound up in Newark, New Jersey (not the first place that comes to mind when looking for a better life, but it worked out well for me), where they hoped to raise me as their son, as they had no intention of giving me up; however, things did not work out that way.

When I met my birth father as an adult, he described my mother as a “free spirit”, which is a nice way of telling me that she was unstable; he also told me that was also a classical dancer, and something of a spiritual seeker, which led her to become associated with many fringe groups in her search for enlightenment – of course some of these groups were rather questionable, and while he did not go into detail, it was clear that some of their beliefs were “unconventional” to say the least.

My birth father told me he worked long hours as a building manager in New York City, leaving me home alone with my mother (this was not a good choice).  It’s clear that she could not handle the responsibility of having a child, because while we were alone together she would abuse me.

I have often wondered why did she did this to me, but I will never know as she’s no longer around to ask, so I can only speculate. Maybe it was because I cried (as infants will do) or did not sleep enough, maybe she was just overwhelmed, or it could be because she was just a sick person.  Regardless of why, my birth father claimed that he did not know that there was anything wrong at home, as things seemed fine when he came back from work late at night.

In time, my birth mother probably would have killed me, but one day when I was about six months old, one of the neighbors had enough of the sounds coming from my parents’ apartment and the Police were called.  Upon seeing how badly I was battered, they took me to local Emergency Room where I was attended to by a doctor named Henry Kessler.

Dr. Kessler, who was the founder of the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, was a well-known and respected doctor.  When he found that every major bone in my body either was broken or had been broken, he recognized me as a victim of child abuse, so he immediately took custody of me and in doing so he saved my life.  Although my birth parents tried to get me back, the doctor’s prestige enabled him to keep me safe, and I stayed in his care while he treated my injuries for free.

Many years later, when I was trying to learn more about my early life, I spoke with a woman who had been one Doctor Kessler’s former nurses.  When I told her who I was, she became emotional and told me that I must have been one of the babies she used to buy clothes for.  Then she told me that Dr. Kessler helped many abused children during his career, and this was when many people did not want to talk about child abuse, and when some doctors would ignore the signs of abuse in order to avoid causing trouble for themselves.

After a few months in the care of Dr. Kessler, I was placed with Newark Child Welfare, who began the task of finding a foster family for me to stay with while I continued to heal.  One of the families they contacted were close friends of the people who were to become my parents.  They had an adopted son, and had recently adopted a daughter, and were considering adopting again in the future.  When asked if they were interested in taking me in, they wanted to say “yes” but felt it was too soon to add another child to the family…especially a child who was still recovering from numerous injuries.

While they could not take me in, they helped look for a family who could; and so they mentioned my case to some friends of theirs, a college professor and his wife.  They told these friends that I needed a good foster family to stay with while I continued my medical treatments, which would include surgery on both of my shoulders and months of rehabilitation.

They had made friends with the professor and his wife, while they were students at Upsala College, in East Orange, NJ.  After they graduated from Upsala, the couple settled in nearby West Orange, and remained close to the Lintvedts, they even joined the same church.

The Lintvedts had four children of their own, one girl and three boys.  When they heard about me, they wanted to help, but they led busy lives, and with four kids already, money was tight.  They were not sure if they could handle the responsibility of another child, not to mention one with medical issues like mine; however, after some thought, and much discussion they decided to take me in as a foster child…on a temporary basis.

Meetings were held, evaluations were done, and eventually Newark Child Welfare approved the Lintvedts as my new foster family.  Just before I was brought into the family, in February of 1964, the man who would become my father took his teenaged children aside and prepared them for my arrival.  He told them that due to my many injuries, I would probably be crying, unhappy and unsettled; so he told the kids to be ready for a rough time of adjustment.  He also told them not to get too attached to me, as I probably would not be staying with them too long.

When I got home, instead of being the crying and cranky baby they expected, I was laughing, smiling and eating up all the attention I could get. Within a few hours of my arrival at the house, my father told the family, “We have to keep him!”
As far as I know, there was not much of a transition period; even though it would take about a year and a half for the adoption to become legal, for all intents and purposes, I became part of the family right away!

For the first time in my life I had parents who loved and cared for me, rather than beating and neglecting me.  I also gained an older sister and three older brothers, who I would look up to and admire for the rest of my life!

At last, I had a real family!

Over the next few years I would have bouts of Pneumonia, surgery on my damaged shoulders, more time in the hospital, and I would spend many months in leg braces.  It was a tough time, and I know was not always happy but my family was there for me, through it all…putting up with my crankiness, and supporting me; just like they still do today.

While my new family went through all of these hardships with me, they in turn were supported by many of their friends from the college and the church, including of course, the couple who had told my parents about me, who were a big part of my early life.

When I was two years old, it all became official.  By order of judge Yancy, in a court room in Newark, New Jersey, I legally became “David Andrew Lintvedt”.

I always knew I was adopted, after all it was hardly a secret; with my red hair and fair skin, I stood out from the rest of my family, and when people would stop and ask me “Where did you get that red hair?” I would proudly tell them “Because I was adopted!”

I WAS proud of being adopted…proud that my family did not have to take me in, but that they choose to make me part of their family tree.

I have always seen being adopted as a blessing, and I was right, my adoptive family is my “real family”.  As I grew up they continued to put up with me, teach me, support me, care for me and include me as they lived their lives.

I am still proud, and grateful for having been adopted, and to have be given the opportunity to become part of an amazing and loving (if not always perfect) family!

David Lintvedt was born in the Bronx, and raised by his adoptive family in suburban New Jersey. He holds a BA in English from Upsala College, in East Orange, New Jersey, and has also earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough. Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough.
Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)


Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. Email asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.


Binders, Guest Posts, Race/Racism

A White Mom, Living #BlackLivesMatter

August 19, 2015

By Sharon Van Epps

The day after 15-year-old Dajerria Becton was thrown to the ground by a McKinney, Texas, police officer during a teen pool party gone wrong, my 12-year-old daughter joined her friends for an afternoon at Mount Baker Beach on Lake Washington in Seattle. I wasn’t happy about her plans. She’d just had her hair freshly braided, and a lake swim would hasten the style’s unraveling, but the day was hot and childhood should be about joy and untidiness, so I let her go. She wore her new bikini for the first time, navy blue and pink, with a hot pink sundress on top, all gifts she’d just received for her birthday.

My son, age 13, also went down to the lake that Saturday with a group of boys. Another mom dropped them off, and I heard about the outing only after they’d left, when she texted me an update. Meanwhile, my 14-year-old daughter took off with her girlfriends for a matinee. I felt a little nervous about my kids scattering in three directions, but as we move into the teenage years, I know I have to allow them to test the limits of their independence. They are good kids, and I trust them, but I worry, all the time.

I am a mother by adoption. I am white and so is my husband. We knew when we chose to adopt outside our race that our children would face hurdles that we’d never encountered, but the recent tragedies that have birthed the #BlackLivesMatter movement have shown me that, despite our good intentions, we didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of our parenting responsibility when we started this family. Intellectually, I recognized that we’d need to have  “the talk” with the kids someday to help them learn how to stay safe while black, especially in encounters with police, but my initial attempts to broach the topic, made when the kids were about 7 and 8, felt clumsy and vague compared to the talk a black acquaintance of mine offered his 7-year-old son: “In the eyes of society, you aren’t cute anymore.” Continue Reading…